Blogs: The Skeptics

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North Korea Is a Bad Actor—but That Doesn't Make It a State Sponsor of Terrorism

The Skeptics

Nothing has changed over the last decade. Redesignating Pyongyang is a political act, a declaration that the DPRK is on Washington’s naughty list. President Trump insisted that the North “must end its unlawful nuclear and ballistic missiles development,” a worthy political end, but it has nothing to do with terrorism. An unnamed State Department official admitted to CNN that the label was “part of the administration’s maximum pressure strategy.” No surprise. The Congressional Research Service earlier admitted: “historically, diplomatic and policy considerations appear to have played a prominent role in the State Department’s decisions about the DPRK’s place.”

Moreover, the designation is primarily symbolic, with little practical impact. The listing triggers a set of economic sanctions, limiting dealings with the targeted government, banning trade in specific goods, lifting sovereign immunity in any lawsuits from terrorist victims, and requiring U.S. representatives to oppose aid from multilateral development banks. However, none of these matter much since North Korea already is subject to a broad range of bilateral and multilateral sanctions. Admitted Secretary Tillerson: “we already have many of these actions in place.”

The North is one of the worst governments on earth. Calling it names is tempting. But the president’s terrorism designation is dishonest, a misuse of the law for political purposes.

Worse, the president’s action further discourages diplomatic contact with Pyongyang, which is ever more essential in the midst of rising tensions, and especially threats of war. The administration already has made talks almost impossible by demanding that the North agree to Washington’s terms before negotiations start. In announcing the terrorism designation, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the United States still desires diplomacy, but the president previously repudiated the secretary’s call for talks. Unfortunately, argued Mintaro Oba, a former Korea desk officer at the State Department, the terrorism designation “will be seen in Pyongyang as confirming the United States is not serious about negotiations.”

The president obviously could lift the designation if the United States and DPRK reached an agreement. However, calling a regime “terrorist” treats it as beyond the pale. That’s why other nations, including Russia and Syria, also use the label against their enemies, irrespective of the facts. Communication between Washington and Pyongyang has become less likely even as it has become more essential.

Closing the diplomatic door in this way may make China less willing to toughen its policy. Beijing is unhappy with its nominal ally and has steadily tightened sanctions, but always has insisted that the United States engage the DPRK and reduce the “hostile” environment that has encouraged the North to go nuclear. The administration’s terrorism designation moves in the opposite direction.

Instead of making a mockery of the terrorism designation, the Trump administration should apply the law as written against North Korea and other nations. If Washington wants to impose additional sanctions, it should do so directly. There are no good solutions for the DPRK. Misusing the law certainly is not one.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World.

Image: Reuters

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The Skeptics

Nothing has changed over the last decade. Redesignating Pyongyang is a political act, a declaration that the DPRK is on Washington’s naughty list. President Trump insisted that the North “must end its unlawful nuclear and ballistic missiles development,” a worthy political end, but it has nothing to do with terrorism. An unnamed State Department official admitted to CNN that the label was “part of the administration’s maximum pressure strategy.” No surprise. The Congressional Research Service earlier admitted: “historically, diplomatic and policy considerations appear to have played a prominent role in the State Department’s decisions about the DPRK’s place.”

Moreover, the designation is primarily symbolic, with little practical impact. The listing triggers a set of economic sanctions, limiting dealings with the targeted government, banning trade in specific goods, lifting sovereign immunity in any lawsuits from terrorist victims, and requiring U.S. representatives to oppose aid from multilateral development banks. However, none of these matter much since North Korea already is subject to a broad range of bilateral and multilateral sanctions. Admitted Secretary Tillerson: “we already have many of these actions in place.”

The North is one of the worst governments on earth. Calling it names is tempting. But the president’s terrorism designation is dishonest, a misuse of the law for political purposes.

Worse, the president’s action further discourages diplomatic contact with Pyongyang, which is ever more essential in the midst of rising tensions, and especially threats of war. The administration already has made talks almost impossible by demanding that the North agree to Washington’s terms before negotiations start. In announcing the terrorism designation, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the United States still desires diplomacy, but the president previously repudiated the secretary’s call for talks. Unfortunately, argued Mintaro Oba, a former Korea desk officer at the State Department, the terrorism designation “will be seen in Pyongyang as confirming the United States is not serious about negotiations.”

The president obviously could lift the designation if the United States and DPRK reached an agreement. However, calling a regime “terrorist” treats it as beyond the pale. That’s why other nations, including Russia and Syria, also use the label against their enemies, irrespective of the facts. Communication between Washington and Pyongyang has become less likely even as it has become more essential.

Closing the diplomatic door in this way may make China less willing to toughen its policy. Beijing is unhappy with its nominal ally and has steadily tightened sanctions, but always has insisted that the United States engage the DPRK and reduce the “hostile” environment that has encouraged the North to go nuclear. The administration’s terrorism designation moves in the opposite direction.

Instead of making a mockery of the terrorism designation, the Trump administration should apply the law as written against North Korea and other nations. If Washington wants to impose additional sanctions, it should do so directly. There are no good solutions for the DPRK. Misusing the law certainly is not one.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World.

Image: Reuters

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The Skeptics

Nothing has changed over the last decade. Redesignating Pyongyang is a political act, a declaration that the DPRK is on Washington’s naughty list. President Trump insisted that the North “must end its unlawful nuclear and ballistic missiles development,” a worthy political end, but it has nothing to do with terrorism. An unnamed State Department official admitted to CNN that the label was “part of the administration’s maximum pressure strategy.” No surprise. The Congressional Research Service earlier admitted: “historically, diplomatic and policy considerations appear to have played a prominent role in the State Department’s decisions about the DPRK’s place.”

Moreover, the designation is primarily symbolic, with little practical impact. The listing triggers a set of economic sanctions, limiting dealings with the targeted government, banning trade in specific goods, lifting sovereign immunity in any lawsuits from terrorist victims, and requiring U.S. representatives to oppose aid from multilateral development banks. However, none of these matter much since North Korea already is subject to a broad range of bilateral and multilateral sanctions. Admitted Secretary Tillerson: “we already have many of these actions in place.”

The North is one of the worst governments on earth. Calling it names is tempting. But the president’s terrorism designation is dishonest, a misuse of the law for political purposes.

Worse, the president’s action further discourages diplomatic contact with Pyongyang, which is ever more essential in the midst of rising tensions, and especially threats of war. The administration already has made talks almost impossible by demanding that the North agree to Washington’s terms before negotiations start. In announcing the terrorism designation, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the United States still desires diplomacy, but the president previously repudiated the secretary’s call for talks. Unfortunately, argued Mintaro Oba, a former Korea desk officer at the State Department, the terrorism designation “will be seen in Pyongyang as confirming the United States is not serious about negotiations.”

The president obviously could lift the designation if the United States and DPRK reached an agreement. However, calling a regime “terrorist” treats it as beyond the pale. That’s why other nations, including Russia and Syria, also use the label against their enemies, irrespective of the facts. Communication between Washington and Pyongyang has become less likely even as it has become more essential.

Closing the diplomatic door in this way may make China less willing to toughen its policy. Beijing is unhappy with its nominal ally and has steadily tightened sanctions, but always has insisted that the United States engage the DPRK and reduce the “hostile” environment that has encouraged the North to go nuclear. The administration’s terrorism designation moves in the opposite direction.

Instead of making a mockery of the terrorism designation, the Trump administration should apply the law as written against North Korea and other nations. If Washington wants to impose additional sanctions, it should do so directly. There are no good solutions for the DPRK. Misusing the law certainly is not one.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World.

Image: Reuters

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